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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Whittier State of the City Address

Today, we attended the Whittier "State of the City Address" and it was very informative as well as entertaining. Retiring City Manager, Steve Helvey, gave an easy to follow, almost 2-hour presentation of all matters concerning Whittier and its residents.

Mayor Nordbak and Whittier City Manager, Steve Helvey

As many other cities across the country, the City of Whittier has seen better days, so saving and redestributing and restructuring assets was a big task for the Councilmen to get the new budget passed (for more information on the budget, check out today's article in the Whittier Daily News).

After a quick review of the Deficit Resolution, City Manager Helvey went on to talk about the Whittier Police Department and gave an update on the new PD building (next to City Hall). The estimated completion will be August of 2010 with an estimated move-in date of September and a dedication in October of 2010. Helvey was pleased to announce that the construction of the new building was funded without an increase in taxes. The new building will be significantly larger - 55,000sqft compared to the current PD building with only 17,000sqft (which currently serves 125 officers, but it was initially built for a 20-officer strong police force in 1955).

The new PD site was built according to new seismic safety requirements and will also feature a large community room to hold crime prevention seminars and meetings with the community. Helvey was also proud to announce that the new PD building will have its own state-of-the-art Crime Scene Investigation and Forensic lab for evidence processing.

As a Thank You to all current and former Whittier Police Officers, there will be a permanent Memorial Site featuring a statue titeled "The Final Salute" by artist Alana Roth. The planning and fundraising for this Memorial are currently under way - if you would like to make a donation, please feel free to contact the Whittier Community Foundation.

According to the latest numbers, Part 1 crimes (robbery, retail burglary, etc.) are down 2% since last year. The Whittier PD also added a great feature to their website, an interactive crime map. All you need to do is enter the ZIP code you are interested in and it will show you recent crimes in the area.

As with many departments, Whittier PD will also be affected by some changes due to the new budget - this will include a change of shifts (moving everybody to 12 hour shifts in order to eliminate shift overlaps) and the elimination of the Uptown Bike Patrol (part of the funds will probably be allocated to hire private security for Uptown).

Moving on from the update of the Whittier PD, Whittier City Manager Helvey addressed Community Services and Programs designed to benefit all Whittier residents, such as the "Art in Public Places" program (with its latest addition "Rocket Robin" at Parnell Park - which, by the way, is not meant to be a climbing toy for children :-), the Whittier Community Services Recreation Programs (click here to check out the latest schedule) and the relatively new Program "Activate Whittier" which was created to motivate and support a healthy community.

Another big community favorite mentioned was the popular Greenway Trail (which has won the California Park and Recreation Society Award of Excellence for "Specialty Parks" in March of 2010 as well as the "California Trails and Greenways Award" from the State Parks Department in April of 2010) and its recent addition of the "Sycamore Station" memorial near the Five-Points intersection. And the best part: the City is working hard on expanding the Greenway Trail to both the West (past the 605 to connect to the San Gabriel Riverbed area) and the East of Whittier (towards La Habra).

Whittier Greenway Trail

Other Whittier Programs and Projects City Manager Helvey mentioned were:
- Honoring our Military Members Past and Present (with 76 Blue Star and 3 Gold Star recipients)
- The Central Library's 50th Anniversary (June 1, 2009) and the restoration of the library closures
- The Summer Reading Program at Leffingwell Park
- The planned City Website Redesign
- The Bus Stop Improvement Project
- The Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension

Of particular interest to our local businesses was the "Business Assistance" which included programs such as the Commercial Facade Improvement Program, the Etching Shield Program, Business Assistance Seminars, the temporary banner permit fee reduction, amongst others.

City Manager Helvey also addressed the Redevelopment Funds which were raided by the State and resulted in a decrease of available funds for Whittier of $3mil which will affect funding of future projects. In order to keep this from happening again, a new proposition will be on the next ballot to prevent the State from taking more money from municipalities.

Helvey continued with an update on the Nelles site - the State is currently negotiating with Brookfield Homes on the sale of the property. This large project will most likely include a mix of retail and housing, intended to meet the City's $1.5mil to $2mil per year sales tax revenue goal for this particular site. Project approval is estimated to take between 12 to 18 months.

Other Real Estate and Business related issues were the PIH Ernest D. Wells Medical Office, the PIH Plaza Tower, the PIH office building in Uptown Whittier, the Uptown Parking District Study, the Whittier College pool remodel, the recently sold Chrysler site, the newly opened Fresh & Easy, the Whittier Area Community Church, the former Stats site (where the new Sprouts Market is supposed to go up), The Ravello Development (by the Whittwood Town Center) and The Gables of Whittier (on Whittier Boulevard) and the Water Pumping Plant II (also off of Whittier Boulevard).

City Manager Steve Helvey during the "State of the City" presentation

Other projects mentioned were the Whittier Boulevard Power Line Undergrounding and Street Lighting Project (between Santa Gertrudes and Valley Home), the Southern California Edison line extension (from their substation in Pico Rivera into Whittier), Street Paving and Energy projects funded by ARRA Grants (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 from the Federal Economic Stimulus Package), Sewer Pipe Inspections, as well as several other Public Works Projects that were completed in the past year.

The last point on the agenda was the Whittier Main Oil Field Development Project that has been under way since August of 2008. The next step will be another Environmental Impact Report which is expected to be ready towards the end of 2010. Whether you are for or against the project, Helvey pointed out public involvement and the EIR Public Input Opportunities where the residents can attend public hearings.

A big Thank You to the City of Whittier for this very informative overview of City matters and to Whittier Chamber of Commerce of helped put on the event.

I hope you enjoyed my overview of today's Whittier State of the City Address - hope it wasn't too long :-)